Greenpeace protest against nuclear energy, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Image courtesy Conxa Roda/CC BY-SA 3.0

Nuclear fear: the irrational obstacle to real climate action

By Kerry Emanuel, November 15, 2021

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Greenpeace protest against nuclear energy, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Image courtesy Conxa Roda/CC BY-SA 3.0

Twenty-three minutes into a 41-minute flight from Houston to Dallas, Texas on September 29th, 1959, a turbo-prop engine on the left-hand side of a new Lockheed Electra began to whirl around on its axis, tearing the wing off the aircraft. All onboard were killed. A subsequent investigation established that the powerful engines were subject to a resonant oscillation known as a “whirl mode” and the Electra was re-designed to eliminate it. The new Electra was so strong that it was used in atmospheric research to fly into dangerous windstorms, including hurricanes, but it never regained the confidence of the public and production ceased well before Lockheed had recovered its costs.

Since 1970, deaths per trillion passenger-miles flown have declined from about 3,200 to 40, an 80-fold decrease attributable mostly to improved aircraft technology and air and ground traffic control. Per passenger-mile, flying today carries one-sixtieth the danger of driving and is roughly one-tenth of one percent as dangerous as riding a bicycle. Still, planes occasionally crash, and there are those whose fear of flying leads them to take much more dangerous forms of transportation.

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

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